Loyal Cougars

Happy Days: Luke Worthington and the power of fun

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Steve Pierce explores how Luke Worthington’s fun-loving approach could come up big for the Cougars. This is the final installment of our season preview, which profiled each member of the 2013-2014 BYU basketball team.

Luke Worthington may not have played a real collegiate game yet, but he has already secured his status as a bona fide BYU legend.

How can that be, you ask? What has a relatively obscure two-star recruit from tiny Mequon, Wisc., done to deserve such accolades after an intra-squad scrimmage, an exhibition game against a lowly Division III opponent, and a humiliating last-place performance in the Boom Shakalaka skills competition?

Allow me to allay your doubts in GIF form:

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, surely this glorious animated GIF is worth the epic poem that should be written to extoll young Worthington’s greatness to the masses. There is simply no combination of words that can suitably describe the happiness that fills my soul every time I watch it — and then it starts again and again and again, looping forever in an endless cycle of pure ecstasy.

What’s that you say? You’re still not convinced? The greatest animated GIF of all time is not sufficient to quell your lingering doubts about Luke Worthington’s proper place in the pantheon of players who have prowled Provo’s peculiar parameters?

Very well then. Allow me to again demonstrate the majestic nature of Worthington’s being through a variety of multimedia exhibitions.

Exhibit A: This picture of Worthington expanding the definition of fashion.

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What mere mortal walks into his first collegiate season — at a school halfway across the country, on a team already led by a star player as laser-focused and perpetually serious as Tyler Haws, Machine of Basketball Destruction™ — and wears this in his official team photograph? Who has the gumption — nay, the cojones — to place his fashionable foot so far forward right out of the gate?

Only the legend that is Luke Worthington. His bowtie and hipster glasses will live on in the hearts and minds of BYU fans everywhere for years to come. Watch out, Russell Westbrook.

Exhibit B: This video of Worthington cooking up comedy goodness.

To be fair, Luke isn’t the only one spinning this seemingly innocuous YouTube video into veritable comedic gold like an oversized Rumpelstiltskin. He’s getting a notable assist from his fellow freshmen, legend-in-the-making Eric Mika and showing-personality-in-public-for-the-first-time-ever Frank Bartley IV. But let’s stop being polite and start getting real for a second — this is Worthington’s show.

From the way he perfectly parodies the conventions of a normal cooking show to the way he hilariously “explores the space” to the way the tone of his voice communicates the ideal mixture of sarcasm and playfulness, it’s plain to see that Luke is on another level. He is fully committed to his performance — and we are all better off for it.

Exhibit C: This photo featuring potentially the greatest hairstyle of all time.

Luke Worthington

On a team where two of his elder statesmen are locked in a follicular arms race to determine who can have the most patently ridiculous hairstyle — with Kyle Collinsworth’s post-modern mullet currently holding a slight edge over Matt Carlino’s overgrown briar’s nest — Worthington is unafraid to raise the stakes.

Indeed, this photo represents far more than just a freshman’s simple exploration of the capacity of extra-hold styling gel, but a warning shot across the bow of his mane competitors. There’s a new superpower on the hair scene, and he’s not going bald anytime soon.

Carlino and Collinsworth have been put on notice.

Exhibit D: This GIF of Worthington riding a child-sized motorbike.

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There is only one appropriate question left to ask after viewing this GIF the requisite 5,000 consecutive times: How?

How has Luke folded his 6-foot-10 frame in such a way that he is successfully riding this contraption that was clearly never meant to be used by anyone over the age of 8 — let alone a giant-sized human with the fashion sense of a young Ralph Lauren? How are his mammoth feet not dragging on the ground, leaving furrows of shattered hardwood in his wake? And how has the motorbike not collapsed under the weight of Worthington’s beastly brawn and fabled reputation?

These are all good questions, none of which I have satisfying answers for. When it comes to a man of Luke Worthington’s mythological merit, there are just some things that we may never be able to comprehend.

What we do know is that Worthington rode that tiny motorbike like a pro. He then threw a few errant ally-oops to his partner-in-crime Mika just to make us all feel better about ourselves, as if the gap between his supernatural splendor and our pallid pedestrianism wasn’t really so large after all. And then he threw the winning lob, and Mika dunked it, and for a brief moment all was right in the world.

I can see you’re still not convinced. And while I am surprised — most humans would have conceded Worthington’s superiority by this point, given the avalanche of evidence in his favor – I can’t say that I’m shocked. After all, BYU fans are a notoriously tough crowd.

You say you want some on-court proof of Worthington’s heretofore secured legendary status? Like, honest-to-goodness serious basketball stuff, not gloriously silly things like viral videos and dunk contest dramatics?

Fine then.

The truth is, we don’t actually know much about Luke Worthington as a basketball player. We’ve seen him play for approximately 42 minutes, none of which were the least bit meaningful, so there’s not a huge base of evidence to draw on.

Here’s what we know so far: He’s a broad-shouldered big guy who moves relatively well for a man of his size and who possesses reasonably good strength for a true freshman only a few months removed from high school. He appears to be fairly limited offensively at this juncture and he plays far below the rim, but he has flashed a few preternaturally smooth post moves that bode well for his continued development.

Oh, and lest I forget…

Exhibit E: These GIFs of Worthington’s fundamentally flawless pick-and-roll defense.

That’s right — perhaps more than anything else on a basketball court, Luke Worthington hedges and recovers like a boss. Witness:

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And if that wasn’t enough legendary screen-and-roll coverage for you, watch this one too:

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This might seem like a strange and somewhat arcane thing to focus on, but I promise you this is important. Successfully hedging and recovering on pick-and-roll plays is one of the most essential skills for a quality big man, but many never fully master it — even highly regarded professionals struggle with the nuances of defending the play, which is what makes it such a devastatingly effective maneuver.

To be sure, there’s always room for improvement — Worthington could improve some of the angles he takes as he strings the ball handler out horizontally across the court, giving his teammate more time to recover — but he’s got this important and very underrated skill down pretty well for someone who’s never played a real collegiate game, and that’s worth something. Quite a bit, actually.

Look, we don’t know who Luke Worthington is as a basketball player yet. We don’t know who he will be in the future. Very few people had ever seen him on a court until two weeks ago. That makes writing a comprehensive profile about his game difficult to impossible.

We do know that he’s big, he’s got a few post moves, and he can defend the pick-and-roll like a madman. But we also know that he’s fun, that he has a sense of humor, and that he seems to be a genuinely good teammate — and despite their silliness, those things might matter just as much.

A lot has been said about how this year’s Cougar team seems different than those of years past — they seem looser, more fun-loving, like they really like each other off the court and enjoy being together. If you don’t think that translates on some level to their on-court chemistry, I suppose that’s a reasonable opinion to have. But all my experience around the game tells me that it does. Teams seem to play better when they’re having fun. They seem to share the ball more selflessly when they like each other and are invested in one another’s success. They seem to win more on the court when they’re tighter off it.

I don’t know how much of an on-court impact Worthington will have this season. I suspect he’ll have to play a fairly sizable role, considering BYU’s lack of post depth. But the levity and good nature he brings to the locker room — yes, through seemingly pointless things like stupid viral videos and crazy hair styles — may very well have just as much positive effect on the Cougars’ success as anything he does between the lines.

Basketball is supposed to be fun — and in that regard, Luke Worthington is already legendary in my book.

Want more hoops action? Get your fix by reading more player profiles from our 2013-2014 season preview:

The cerebral Kyle Collinsworth
Next Level: Cougars need polarizing Matt Carlino to make ‘the leap’
BYU newcomer Frank Bartley knows the importance of family
Non-traditional Anson Winder a perfect fit for BYU system
The Tyler Haws Offense: Can BYU’s star scorer carry them alone?
What’s Cooler Than Being Cool: Nate Austin and the 3-point shot
Freshman Eric Mika expected to fill big shoes
Josh Sharp: Come for the dunks, stay for the dirty work
Skyler Halford: More than just a deep threat